Mum’s the word

Well, the evaluation has taken place.  Early last August, I purchased 36 potted mums, two varieties that are supposed to be hardy in our Zone 5 area, and planted them strategically in the gardens.  I wanted to get them in early so they’d have longer to get established and have a better chance to survive over the winter.  All of the plants were mulched after planting.  When the season ended, half the mums were trimmed and half were left intact, some in each garden and some of each variety for test purposes.  I’ve heard that untrimmed mums winter and return better than those that are trimmed.  I’d really rather not to have to purchase 36 mums again, so even though I prefer tidy gardens I was willing to leave some ugliness if it resulted in major cost-savings.

Overall, we had a fairly mild winter, although a wet one.  We did have one period of temperature plunge into the low teens, without the usual snow-cover to temper it, which is hard on plants.  I’d guess we had about the normal amount of freeze-thaw action.  So here’s the count…drum rolls and trumpets, please…….

Untrimmed mums alive and showing new growth…0 (Yes, that’s zero, nada, zilch.)  This is typical of all the mums that were left untrimmed.  Dead…..dead….dead.

Trimmed mums alive and showing new growth….1!  Just ONE!

Trimmed mum living compressed  It’s just beginning to grow.

What a sad outcome.  Neither method was truly successful, so I’ll probably repeat the trial next autumn.  Looks like I’ll be purchasing 36 mums again for fall.  I’m hoping to get them even earlier and into the ground before they get pot-bound, and I’ll try to find different, hardier varieties.  In the meantime, I’m waiting a bit longer before pulling them out just in case any of the others begin to show life, but I’m not holding my breath in hope.  I am trimming them all.  They’ve been adding “ugly” to the garden long enough, and my new motto is “If it’s adding to the ugly, and not the beauty, off or out it goes.”

Did your mums return?  Did you trim them or not?  I’d be interested in hearing other results.  Herbal blessings, Carolee

Posted in garden maintenance, gardening, mums, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Just a Quickie

Bet you noticed the new header photo.  Decided it was finally safe to replace the winter, snow-covered potager with a bit of spring color.  The photo isn’t great, but I just didn’t want to take any more daylight time to fiddle.  There’s too much to do in the gardens.

In this brief break between long periods of rain, I’m frantically seeding, planting and deadheading in the gardens.  However, I did want to share the progress that the resilient plants have made despite the heavy downpours that sometimes have included hail.  Just to remind you, here is the Front Garden the end of March:

Front gard Mar compr  and here it is this morning!

Front Bed mid-April compressed  The high winds are taking their toll on the tulips, so I fear they won’t be lasting long.  Today it is to reach 80 degrees, scattered showers this afternoon…..and then (sigh!) 5 more days of rain and dropping temperatures.  I feel I should just sit on the lawn with a glass of wine and savor the flowers while they last….but then the veggies won’t get seeded, the broccoli and cabbages won’t get planted.  I worry over the strawberries and gooseberries that are beginning to bloom.  Will the rains prevent pollination?  Will the winds blow the flowers off?  No time to worry; I must get the spinach and kohlrabi transplants into the ground before it all turns to mud again.  Hope you are enjoying your spring blooms and that they linger long.  Herbal Blessings, Carolee

Posted in gardening, Spring, tulips, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

Applaud the Frog

April is National Frog Month here in the U.S. and since I STILL can’t really get into the gardens as much as I want (rain, hail, thunderstorms, high winds, flooded beds, more rain, and now freezing temps in the forecast again followed by…yep, more rain if not snow!) I’ve been “springing” up the house.  Frogs on shelf compressed  First was the high kitchen shelf, which now has a pair of frogs, some small topiary (fake) boxwoods, a big yellow pitcher filled with daffodils (not shown) and some spring-like flowers.  Next, this antique frog pitcher now takes place of honor in the center of the kitchen table.  Frog pitcher compressed  He’s really much cuter then he looks in this photo.  I love his tiny feet.  A relative now sits on the fireplace mantel in the living room  Frog fat compressed  along with more topiaries.  A spring wreath was added in the hallway, and bouquets of daffodils (yes, I finally have a few to pick, to add to my fake collection.  I only pick those that are bent over from the storms…but that has been the majority of those brave enough to open.)

The songs of the tree frogs are one of the most welcome signs of spring here in central Indiana.  My long-time friend in the southern end of the state always phoned me as soon as she heard them, to assure me that spring would reach me eventually here further north.  I always make a note in my garden journal when I first hear them each Spring.  This year they sang early for one evening, and then buried themselves in the mud as temperatures dropped.  Since then it’s been an on again, off again performance and I’m sure they are getting as frustrated as we gardeners, although they probably don’t really mind the rain as much as we.

But, April is a wonderful time to celebrate the frogs.  And since we can’t garden, we might as well bake some frog cupcakes  frogcupcakes and make some frog canapes frogcanape  and make a frog salad like this one:

frogmelon  If this fellow doesn’t make you smile, you need to seek help.  So, now you know that April showers bring not only May flowers, but also the songs of frogs.  And for that we are thankful.


Posted in frogs, gardening, seasonal decor, Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Good bye, Good riddance March!

Front gard Mar compr  At the end of February, I was so hopeful and excited for March to arrive.  But, for the most part, except for some exceptional basketball viewing and a lovely quick trip to Florida, it has only been a frustrating grouping of days.  Lots of rain, little sunshine.  Soggy soils, wind-battered blooms.  The crocuses and iris reticulata finally gave up, or more likely abandoned ship.  I could almost hear the few flowers that appeared shouting to their fellows, “STAY DOWN!  TAKE COVER!” You can see that our front sidewalk is flooded, and the daffodils are all bent from recent storms.   I’d go pick them, but I’d need taller boots as I’d sink deep into the mud.  It’s been too wet to bring in mulch.  But, at least there is green.  Last night, heavy downpours continued until there was a river running through the back yard.  I would have needed a boat to get to the potager.  And after that, it hailed TWICE with 1″-2″ hailstones.  I feared for all the flats I had moved to the outdoor benches, but after a quick check this morn, a few are battered, but most are okay.  (Big sigh of relief here!)  After checking the flats, I wandered about the potager snapping a few pix.

Peas sprouting Mar 17 comp  I did manage to get a little planting done in the potager mid-month (See “Daffodils mean Pea planting!”) Looking closely, you can barely see the peas emerging.  I’m surprised they didn’t all rot, as the day I planted them was the only sunny one since.

Radish Mar 17 comp  Looking closely again, you might be able to see the radishes making a double row down the center.  They are the markers for kohlrabi that are a bit slower to germinate.

Garlic Mar 17 compressed  The garlic has grown several inches and is looking very happy.  The weed to the right is also happy, but his hours are numbered…..

Shallots test fall Mar comp  The test patch of fall-planted shallots are showing new growth, too.  I wasn’t certain we could plant them in fall here, so I did a small test.  After such a mild, short winter, I’m not sure this result can ensure future success if we’d have a normal winter.  About 2/3 of them came through so far, but those that have are looking good, so it’s probably worth chancing again.

Strawberry Mar 2017 compressed  The strawberry leaves are beginning to green.  And the rhubarb has grown a lot since last month. Rhubarb March 2017 compressed

Otherwise, I won’t bore you with photos of bare ground with bits of green sulking here and there in other gardens.  First hellebore 2017  There is finally a hellebore in bloom, and although it’s not a great beauty, compared to those other bloggers have posted much earlier, I’m thrilled to see it.  Fairy Mar comp  And a few Tete a Tete daffys emerged in the Fairy Garden.  I haven’t even bothered to try to put the fairy houses back, because the slope is so very muddy.

Forsythia 2017 compressed  Happily, the baby forsythia that I covered with blankets night after frozen night to save its buds is beginning to flower, joined by a couple of daffodils that I planted last fall, that are NOT the orange trumpeted ones I ordered. 😦  A few perennials are poking up in tentative fashion, but others have obviously rotted (gaillardia, hollyhocks, dianthus mostly.)

So, my chitted potatoes languish indoors still; the seeding is falling badly off schedule.  The basement is filled with plants and even more to be transplanted into pots, but until I can plant the early batches into the potager beds (fava beans, sweet peas, aspa-broc, broccoli, cabbages, etc.) there is not space on the outdoor benches or in the greenhouse for more flats.

Here’s hoping April brings more sunshine, but our forecast is rain for 7 out of the 9 next days.  Not a promising start…..

Thanks to Helen, The Patient Gardener, for suggesting this end of the month meme.

Posted in fairy gardens, gardening, garlic, kitchen gardens, monthly review, Potager, shallots, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 24 Comments

Daffodils? That means pea-planting!

Daffodil 2017 compressed  Long before the advent of calendars, farm folk had sayings to help recall when certain chores needed to be done.  I like following many of these old proverbs, because in my experience they are generally more accurate than dates.  Just because it is St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean potatoes should be planted if the ground is still frozen solid, or I can “feel in my gut” that it just isn’t time.  And St. Patrick’s is obviously too late for gardeners who live in the South.  Old-timers know that the time to plant potatoes is when the “pineys” (that’s peonies to non-Hoosier readers) are hand high (about 4″ tall) rather than any certain date.  Corn can be planted when the oak leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears.  Tomatoes aren’t planted outdoors until I see volunteer borage seedlings.

Another bits of lore is “When the daffodils bloom it’s pea planting time!”  Last year, I was impatient to get my new potager started, so I planted some peas March 7 when the first crocuses bloomed.  They did not do well at all.  Poor germination, lots of floppy foliage, few pea pods.  My first daffodil bloomed on March 14, 2016 so again I planted shelling peas, and these were beautiful and bountiful.

Needless to say, this year I  returned to the “wise ways” and waited.  Some daffys were budded weeks ago, but none had opened, so still I waited.  And waited, muttering to myself repeatedly, “Nothing is to be gained with rotting seeds in cold soil.”  The days clicked by on the calendar.

But finally, my patience was rewarded and these little beauties opened their frilly trumpets and surrounding petals!  They didn’t seem too thrilled at all, rather sulking, or maybe just shy?  But, I was thrilled to see them.  At last!  It was pea planting time!  So, along part of the potager’s west fence went an heirloom variety “Early Frosty.”  In two of the raised beds, wide bands of “Little Marvel” were sown.  Yes, I plant peas in 4″ bands, randomly, liberally scattered rather than spaced singly in rows.  Why?  Because back in the 70’s a wise gardener once said, “If you are stingy with peas, they will be stingy with you.”  He was right.  He probably learned it from a wise old gardener in his youth as well.  Good gardening lore is passed on from one generation to the next.

I was glad I hadn’t soaked the seeds before planting, as I’d barely finished when the rain began.  The light rain that evening turned into a full day and following night of noisy thunderstorms.  The daffodils are drooping even further today.  But, as soon as it stops raining, and the soil is ready again, I’ll do succession plantings with one of my favorites, “Green Arrow” and more “Little Marvel.”  Then two weeks later “Maestro” will follow, and lastly “Wando,” because it is the most heat tolerant.  Pasta with fresh peas, crisp bacon bits, cream, and parmigiano soon to come….ah, bliss!

Posted in gardening, kitchen gardens, planting, Potager, raised beds, Seeding, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Insulating the Greenhouse Follow-up

Seedlings in gh 3-18 compressed  For those of you interested in how much difference lining my 10’x 12′ hobby greenhouse with horticultural bubble wrap insulation made, here’s the follow up story and data so far.  The night following exchanging the packing tape with official greenhouse tape was not a great success.  The outdoor temp was 14 degrees.  The indoor temp was only 17 degrees, and maddeningly, the greenhouse tape failed to hold on one of the major seams and therefore two ceiling insulation panels were sagging nearly to the floor.  Contributing to this low result was also my having dragged inside two large bales of commercial potting soil that were absolutely frozen solid earlier that day.  I’m sure they did nothing to help that thermometer climb.

Gh pin compressed

In an effort to reduce the pull on the tape and keep it in place, I resorted to corsage pins through the tape and wrap in strategic places to anchor it.  Not extremely elegant, but seemingly efficient because so far, they’ve held the tape and wrap panels in place.  Since the night-time forecast was for upper 20’s, I took a risk by moving 12 flats of plants into the greenhouse about 3:00 that afternoon (top photo.)  The sun had actually come out after lunch, it was just above freezing and late enough that the seedlings wouldn’t get too much sun on their first time out of the basement, since some were newly transplanted.  The movie title “They Were Expendable” was appropriate as I selected the flats:  Sweet peas, snapdragons, broccoli raab and violas.  The violas were first choice, because I started them so late they may not bloom before the heat arrives…we seem to have such short springs now and I planted way too many.  Last year there were germination problems, so this year I planted more and of course, every seed grew. The snapdragons also because I sowed lots extra, and the broccoli raab & sweet peas because I want to get them hardened off and planted outside asap.  Plus the last two were getting too tall for the light stand unless I lowered the shelf, which I didn’t want to have to do!  Out they go!

Over the years, I’ve had 6 different sizes and styles of greenhouses, ranging from 2 different home-built, lean-to double poly on recycled 2 x 4’s styles; a homemade step-down in-ground double poly (these first 3 houses seasonally heated with wood stoves or kerosene heaters);  commercial 22’x 108′ double poly hoop house heated with propane salamander seasonally ;  commercial polycarbonite sided 22’x 108′ heated year-round with 2 commercial propane furnaces.  I’ve learned that the smaller the greenhouse, the greater and faster the temperature fluctuations.  Small greenhouses are tricky, and generally not very efficient, and this is the smallest by far that I’ve ever tried to manage.

On to that night.   At 9 p.m. when I scampered out to plug in the heater, the temp was 24 degrees outside, 36 inside.  We’d had a fairly sunny late afternoon  and those frozen soil bales had warmed quite a bit.  I felt pretty safe having the seedlings in the greenhouse, but all night I wondered what the g’h thermometer would read come morning.

I am delighted to report that instead of a ONE degree temperature difference between inside and outside (prior to the insulation, with heater) the outdoor temp was 33 and inside the greenhouse (Tah DAH!…trumpets sounding here) was a balmy 60 degrees, a 27 degree difference!  Happy dance, happy dance!  As  more and more plants are moved in, and thus more soil to help hold heat, it may even improve.   And, I’ll add a couple of 5 gal. buckets of water, which will also help.  Confident now that the temperatures will hold, I’ll move lots more violas, snapdragons, calendula and brassica today because artificial light just isn’t as good as REAL light, even if it’s not entirely sunny.  Here are two “Robin Hood” favas, planted same day, same conditions, except the one on the left stayed in the basement under lights while the one on the right has been in the greenhouse for two days.  Of those two days, maybe there was 4 hours of actual sunshine.  See how much bigger it is in that short a time?

Fava compare compressed

If the costs are amortized over several years (not sure how long the wrap will last) it should be reasonable.  Also, I think if I am more aware of spacing where the seams are and do a bit of repositioning next season, that may help the tape problem.  And I know if the tape were applied when it was warm, maybe 65 or higher, it would adhere better than in frigid temperatures.  So, the plan will be to put up the insulation late autumn, before it gets so cold.  Of course, I will have to purchase tape each year, because I used the entire roll.  I’ll keep monitoring, but enabling me to move plants into the greenhouse with confidence that it will stay above freezing is definitely worth the hassle of installing it.


Posted in gardening, hobby greenhouses, Potager, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lettuce Rejoice!

Little Gem Lettuce compressed       I have to admit that one of my favorite plants to grow is lettuce (Lactuca sativa).  Not because it is easy, although it IS one of the easiest plants anyone can grow, or because it is tasty—although it certainly is, and so appreciated early in the season.  That first harvest of tender green leaves is certainly something to celebrate!  I love to grow lettuce because it is so very pretty in the garden, and there are so many varieties to try!   It seems every year there are new, exciting lettuces to test, and old favorites to enjoy again.  (See the “What’s Growing” post for a list of this year’s selections for my potager.)  I use chartreuse-leaved Black-seeded Simpson sprinkled in the potager’s interior borders to hide dying tulip foliage.  I love using tidy rows of frilly “New Red Fire” to edge flower borders, especially where it is partially shaded so it is showy a long time.  Unfortunately, the rabbits love for me to do just that, so it seldom looks as perfect as it does in my dreams.  The contrasting varieties with red leaves,  (“Pomegranate,” “Gabriella,” or “Red Romain”) green leaves or speckled leaves (“Freckles”) around other, plainer and slower growing plants in the potager make the garden showy at once.  I love making patterns using the ruffly loose leaved-varieties next to the tightly balled, rounded leaf buttercrunches (“Tom Thumb” shown above, and “Garden Babies”), backed by a soldier-straight row of romaines.  I even just love the names of some of the varieties.  Who doesn’t want to grow some of the heirloom types named “Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce,” or “Merveille des Quatre Saisons,”  “Bronze Arrowhead,” “Red Leprechaun,” “Webb’s Wonderful,” or “Rouge d’Hiver.”   I just love growing lettuces!

fall-lettuce-compressed  Red Deer Tongue & New Red Fire

Lettuce probably takes its name from the Latin lactuca, or milky juice.  This white liquid is most noticeable when the plant’s seed stalk is broken, but can also be observed when the older leaves of the plant are broken.  There is lots of lore about lettuce.  The Roman gourmet Apicius watered the lettuce in his garden with honey-based mead every evening so that it would taste like “green cheese cakes.”  Old lore says that the lusty Frenchmen began their meals with meat and cheese, but ended it with mustard and lettuce to make them more virile.

lettuce-compressed  Black Seeded Simpson

The looseleaf varieties are some of my favorites.  Some of them are named because of their color.  There’s “Australian Yellowleaf,” “Mascara,” and “Red Velvet.” Many of them are named because of the shape, such as “Deer tongue,” “Oakleaf, and “Bronze Arrowhead.”  They can be grown as “cut and come again” crops or allowed to form large single “heads.”  Most looseleaf types are not very heat-tolerant, so plant and eat them first.

The Bibb types came along later.  Although many people assume Bibb lettuce got its name because the leaves are shaped like a baby’s bib that is not the case.  Actually, amateur gardener John B. Bibb developed this variety by selection and hand-pollination in his backyard garden in Frankfort, Kentucky around 1850!  (And, NO, I didn’t know him personally…I’m old, but not that old!)  It has continued to be an American favorite, although over the decades many other buttercrunch lettuces, as the type is termed, have been developed.  Breeders have continued to improve the original Bibb lettuce to get more heat tolerance.  Today, even a miniature variety called “Tom Thumb” and a red-leafed one called “Susan’s Red Bibb” are available.

Even the Romaine types now come in Red, speckled, and red-tipped colors.  I love the Romaines because they tolerate the heat a bit better than some of the looseleaf types.  The leaves have a heavier texture that hold up well in salads.

Breeders have worked hard to extend the lettuce season for those of us with hard-hitting heat fairly early in the season.  Now there’s “Heatwave,” and “Summerlong” to extend the lettuce season.

Bronze triangle compressed  Bronze Mignonette

I doubt that few reading this post have never grown lettuce.  But just in case, lettuce thrives in cool weather, so it is planted just as soon as the soil can be worked.  It works very well wintered or planted very early in hotbeds and coldframes, and can be successfully grown in containers of all sizes.  It plays well with others.  Good, fertile, loose soil and adequate moisture guarantees that the crop will grow quickly, which produces the most tender and flavorful lettuce.  By planting different varieties and doing successive sowings, any home gardener can have months of tasty salads and sandwich fixings.

My mother always pulled out lettuce as soon as it became too bitter or tough, to make room for another crop, such as beans or melons.  But, recently I’ve begun leaving some lettuces to mature in the garden, especially the Black-Seeded Simpsons.  They make frilly towers that make me smile, and if I am watchful, I can collect seeds to sow again in the cool weather of September for another autumn harvest.

I emphasize that I must be watchful, because I am not the only one that is interested in  lettuce maturing.  In many areas, the goldfinch is called the “Lettuce Bird” because the seed of that plant is one of its favorites.  Allowing lettuce to bolt and produce seed is a good way to attract this bright yellow songster, also often called a “wild canary” into your yard.

So, I hope I have whetted your appetites, and set your gardening urges to flowing.  If you have not already ordered (or you lucky people living in warmer areas that can already plant!  Sigh of jealousy here…..) a wide variety of lettuces, do so now.  You will be rewarded with both beauty and bounty for very small efforts.  P.S.  This is my “green” post for St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted in garden planning, gardening, kitchen gardens, Lettuce, Potager, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments